Nearly every student-athlete a university recruits will tell you that she or he has aspirations of conference and national titles. They want to lead their team to new heights while earning individual honors on the playing field and in the classroom.
Several of them have dreams of turning professional in their sport of choice and going on to long careers at the top of their fields.
But all too often, many of those goals go unfulfilled. It takes a special individual with the internal drive and dedication to be successful in all avenues of life, but Stacy Lewis defied the odds and did just that.
Lewis agreed to sign with the University of Arkansas’ women’s golf team, joining the Razorbacks as a freshman in 2003-04. The prepster from The Woodlands, Texas, earned one of the biggest votes of confidence from then-Arkansas head coach Kelley Hester and current skipper and former assistant coach Shauna Estes-Taylor when they brought her to campus knowing she might never play golf.
Lewis suffers from scoliosis and she had surgery inserting a rod in her back just before coming to campus. No one really knew if she would be able to play or at what level Lewis might be able to compete at once she was cleared for participation.
The six-hour surgery saw doctors deflate a lung and move organs around as the steel rod was implanted. Lewis was bed-ridden for eight weeks and was unable to lift more than five pounds when she came to campus.
That first season, Lewis spent time chipping and putting and it was well into the second semester of classes before she could fully swing a club.
But when Lewis emerged from her ordeal, she was even better than before. Although her back takes daily management from strength training to stretching to treatment, Lewis found a way to get the job done on the highest level.
She graduated in May 2008 as the most highly decorated golfer in program history. She became the Razorbacks first-ever four-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference and four-time DURAMED Futures Tour All-American. Lewis captured two SEC medalist titles, the 2007 NCAA individual crown and 2008 SEC Golfer of the Year honors, just to name a few.
Lewis also added academic honors to her resume that would make the most scholarly student proud. Lewis was a two-time ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American, a four-time National Golf Coaches Association All-Scholar team selection, the 2008 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women’s golf and a two-time Honda Broderick Award Nominee. Recently, Lewis was named a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.
One of the most requested speakers the Athletic Department has had in recent years, Lewis was also a two-time SEC Community Service Team selection, Athletic Department Senior Student-Athlete of the Year and a finalist for the SEC’s Community Service Athlete of the Year.
In addition to a collegiate career, Lewis continued to pursue her amateur career, working toward her goal of becoming a professional golfer. She played nearly every weekend during the summers and on class breaks, and some of her amateur accomplishments included the 2008 Curtis Cup, two U.S. Women’s Open appearances (including a third-place finish in 2008), medalist honors at the 2007 World University Games and several top finishes over her career.
Lewis’ collegiate career ended after she guided the Razorbacks to three NCAA Tournament appearances and the highest rankings the women’s golf program had ever seen. She began her professional career with a third-place showing at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open and has played in six events with two top 10 finishes.
Lewis’ career earnings during that time total around $247,464, including her most recent tie for sixth place at the Kapalua LPGA Classic where she brought home just over $47,000.
As Lewis closed her career at Arkansas, she left the program with a crop of good young players headlined by lone senior Lucy Nunn for the 2008-09 season. Estes-Taylor now leads the team that includes juniors Natalie Beach, Kristin Ingram, Tiffany Phelps, Corinna Rees, Alex Schulte and Tanica van As, sophomore Kelli Shean and freshman Katy Nugent.
The Razorbacks just wrapped up their first fall in four seasons without Lewis and although she will be missed, her contribution to the program lives on in the players who follow.